A Government programme that supports one group of NCEA students has ended up disadvantaging others, school leaders say.
The Ministry of Education introduced the programme in 2012 for students on the cusp of achieving NCEA level 2, as part of an initiative to lift the number of school-leavers with level 2 from 78 per cent to 85 per cent by 2017.
But schools and teachers say the pressure to hit targets means those well below the cusp are missing out, and others are being encouraged to sit low-quality credits that won't be useful later in life.
Ministry spokeswoman Katrina Casey said the "cusp" programme identified those students "who would be close, but who would, if nothing happened, not achieve NCEA level 2".
This year 207 secondary schools were involved in the programme, which included mentoring and extra supervised study time.
"We have extended the programme to include year 10 students, which means we can identify those students who are not only at risk of not achieving level 2, but of dropping out of school altogether."
Results from 2013 showed 60 per cent of the 2701 students in the programme achieved NCEA Level 2.
But Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said the programme was "incentivising schools to make gains in the system".
"I hear plenty of stories from schools about resourcing going straight to cusp students, and the ones who are never going to pass are the ones who miss out."
Targets set out by the ministry became schools' priority and it was "very difficult for teachers and schools to push back against that".
Wellington College headmaster Roger Moses agreed there was real pressure for schools to reach ministry targets. In some schools that meant students who were unlikely to pass NCEA ended up sitting credits that were not of a high quality and would not lead to a future career, he said.
"It's a loophole . . . it's not cheating in any way. I guess if there is so much emphasis on the 85 per cent target, it will encourage schools to create courses that can be easily achieved."
National standards and NCEA were how schools would be judged, and "you can't blame schools for saying they will get there by hook or by crook".
Casey said there was no pressure on schools to meet targets by putting students on courses that led nowhere.
"This is why we work directly with teachers and trust their professional judgement to ensure credits are tied to future work and study options for students."
Wellington High School signed up its "cusp students" last year and principal Nigel Hanton said 20 students across each year level had their achievement monitored closely. "If students are below the cusp, there's still support for them, as there is for students doing well. The identified kids are the ones who have the ‘potential' to be successful."
Wainuiomata High School principal Martin Isberg said he was focused on keeping students at school as long as possible. "Some secondary schools might not choose to keep these kids, though, and they'll move them on so they're not part of the statistics."
Porirua College principal Susanne Jungersen said quality courses should not be sacrificed for the sake of a target.
"For some schools, the answer might be just to scrape together a whole heap of credits to get a student over the line, but that's not what we do. We will keep them another year to achieve quality credits, even if it doesn't reflect well on our stats."
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